The table was covered in ingredients, from aconite to flying seahorse tails. Weeks of experimenting had led the duo nowhere, and with a full-grown Wampus cat running around, their hands were more than full.
"How in Merlin's name are we supposed to test when you can't go ten minutes without breaking something?" the blond wizard shouted, burying the creature's nose in the pile of rubbish that he had knocked over. "I was just about to get rid of that!"
"I told you to take care of it before he woke up from his nap," the brunette woman scolded, stirring the neon pink potion before her. "Draco, I need those lacewings!"
"One bloody second, witch!"
The potion was quickly becoming murkier and murkier, a color indicative of a failed brew. Panicking, the woman searched for the lacewing flies, knocking over the dozens of vials and apothecary bottles in her way. With a roll of his eyes, Draco shuffled towards the table and handed her the cutting board.
"You may as well toss that batch, Granger. Looks too far gone."
"It wouldn't have been if you were—" To her horror, a cloud burst forth from the cauldron. Her hair, which was already quite unkempt, had transformed into a rat's nest worthy of the tabloids she hated so much. "Oh, hell."
Draco exploded into a fit of laughter, shaking his head as his scarlet-faced partner tried to smooth down her mane. "Who knew your hair could be an even bigger mess?" He flicked his wand at the cauldron, leaving it glimmering and ready for another batch. "Perhaps I ought to mix this one."
"Please do," Hermione grumbled before retreating to the bathroom.
She clawed at her hair, mortified by the many layers of tangles and frizz. Charm after charm failed, and despite her better judgment, she rifled through the bathroom cupboard to try and find something to tame the nightmare atop her head. After moving several Wizarding brands of expensive cologne and a large shaving razor, she found her only hope.
"Professor Schnitzel's Invisible Hair Potion," she read aloud before unscrewing the lid. As she peered inside at the clear, bubbling gel, she chuckled. "This can't be much different than Muggle gel."
She fingered just a small dab of the thick potion and applied it to a frizzy clump of hair. Miraculously, it was smoother than it had ever been. Now confident in the product, she combed more and more of it through her wild locks, humming away as she did so. Perhaps, she would impress Draco with her new look.
Her stomach rolled. She was not supposed to care what Draco thought of her, but after their front yard kiss, she only felt more attached to him. Unlike the harsh press of Viktor Krum's mouth or the cracked, dry lips of Ronald Weasley, snogging Draco Malfoy had been an extraordinarily soft experience. Naturally, she would never tell him that.
Unfortunately, she had gotten so lost in her thoughts that she absentmindedly added far too much product to her frizz. It was not until it was too late that she realized what a sour mistake she had made. What had been smooth, feminine ringlets suddenly appeared drenched and weighed down. She had seen marathon runners with drier hair! Mortified, she looked at the label once again, and sure enough, the directions on the back confirmed her suspicions.
Step 1: Use a dab - no bigger than a Knut!
Step 2: Wait two minutes!
Step 3: Watch your mane transform into our signature 'just-bathed' look!
Step 4: Enjoy!
Perfect for parties, holidays, and work!
Our unremovable, long-lasting formula lasts 12 hours!
Hermione's eyes widened. She tried several removal charms, water, and even some transfiguration, but nothing did the trick. The gel was, in fact, unremovable.
Then, she heard several knocks on the door. "Granger! What the hell are you doing in there? You didn't get eaten by that hair of yours, did you?"
"Erm—no!" she shouted, frantically putting everything back into the cupboard. "No, no! Just trying to fix it!"
"You're more likely to mix a potion that turns skinks into Hungarian Horntails! Forget that lost cause and get your arse out here! I've found something."
Nervous, Hermione drew in a deep breath and tugged at a crunchy, hard lock one last time. She opened the door and, to her surprise, Draco was not there. As she padded down the hallway, she hoped for two things: firstly, that Draco would not make a nasty comment about her hair, and secondly, that his findings were valuable.
To her annoyance, he roared with laughter as soon as she stepped into the room. "Is that my hair potion, Granger? You look like a wet fucking dog!"
"Did you have something to show me or did you call me out here just to mock me?"
"Right to business, then," Draco muttered. He waved her over. "Come here. Take a look in the cauldron."
Hermione did as she was instructed to do and raised an eyebrow. "Neon pink. Did you just adjust the ratios?"
"And I added fairy wings," he said, gesturing an apothecary bottle. "As you know, that means we likely have one of two types of potions."
"Cosmetic or endurant."
Draco nodded. "Precisely. Now, the next step is to determine dosages. We'll need a few bezoars on hand, since we have no idea how potent this is. If you don't mind digging those out of this mess, that would be incredibly helpful."
His pale pink lips kept moving, excitedly delving into the details of the potion and what it could be, what dosage he recommended for a start, and how they could determine the properties of the Wampus hair. Never had research bored Hermione, but for some reason, she could not focus on what he was saying. Instead, her gaze was fixed on his perfect mouth.
"Granger, did you hear me?"
"What? Y-yes, of course! Dosages. Right."
He narrowed his eyes as Bartholomew wrapped his tail around his leg. The wizard scratched the cat behind the ears. "You're distracted."
"I'm not distracted," Hermione fibbed, not eager to discuss her fascination with the man sitting beside her. "Quite the opposite, in fact."
Draco looked unconvinced. "Right. Well, I'll feed Barth and then let's get to work. No time to waste, yeah?"
"Yeah," she repeated, ripping her eyes away. "No time to waste."
Malfoys did not test potions on themselves. A younger Draco Malfoy might have encouraged his Muggle-born partner to do the honors, but he had grown to care for the frizzy-headed witch. While he would never tell her that, he certainly was not going to let her ingest mystery potions, either.
"So I got the bezoars around. I suppose we should just start with a drop or two like you said?"
"You won't be starting with anything," he corrected, setting several vials down onto the coffee table. They rolled a bit, clunking together as the bright pink liquid splashed inside. "The tester I have in mind—well, you may not approve of it, but I assure you it's our safest option."
Hermione looked skeptical. "Who do you have in mind, if not us?"
"You won't like it."
"You can't know that until you tell me," she replied, coolly, curiosity lacing her tone.
"Fine." He clapped his hands three times, and a wide-hipped house-elf appeared in a wisp of smoke. "Lippy, meet Granger. Granger, this is Lippy."
"Lovely to meet you, Lippy." She shook the house-elf's tiny hand and glared at Draco. "I thought you didn't have any house-elves."
He smirked. "I don't. She's my parents'. I'm just borrowing her."
She looked down at the small creature and flashed a smile before turning back to her partner. "Draco, I'd like to talk to you in the other room, please."
"I figured as much." He looked down at Lippy. "Make yourself at home. The sofa's all yours."
As soon as they were in the kitchen, Hermione turned on her heel, glaring daggers in his direction. "You have to be joking. I thought you'd changed! Still arrogant, sure, but cruel? And to think I—ugh!"
"Calm down, will you?" Draco hissed, leaning closer to her. "She's a house-elf. Bezoars are more effective on her. It's the only rational method of testing."
"I never read that," Hermione spat, crossing her arms.
"Why else did you think potioneers have done it for centuries?"
"Because house-elves have been oppressed that long! They have no choice!"
Draco rolled his eyes. "Want me to prove it to you?"
"No!" she shrieked. "You are not about to go pump her full of potion!"
"I meant, I'll show you in a book. Though, you should know this already. I'm nearly positive you read the one I'm thinking of." He crossed the room and turned back to look at her. "Are you coming or not?"
"I would've remembered reading something like that." Storming towards him, she added, "Even if you think it's rational, it doesn't mean I approve."
Draco snorted. "I didn't think you would."
He plodded out of the kitchen, but as soon as he stepped into the living room, he stopped. With his eyes as wide as tennis balls, he took in the scene before him.
Lippy was burping endlessly, an empty vial on the sofa beside her. At first glance, he thought that she was suffering, but as he got a closer look, he realized that that was not the case at all.
"Very good potion, Master Malfoy." The house-elf was speaking much faster than usual. "Lippy likes it very much."
"Lippy, can you describe how you feel?" he asked, cautiously, taking a few steps towards her. From the corner of his eye, he caught Hermione glaring at him. "You aren't hurt, are you?"
"Hurt? From from it, sir. Lippy feels strong! And fast! Like Lippy could finish all the chores in less than an hour!"
Hermione gave him a concerned look. "Can I check your pulse, Lippy?"
"Lippy doesn't mind," the house-elf said, carelessly flinging her arm towards the witch.
Hermione pressed her thumb against Lippy's wrist and frowned. "It's normal."
"What, is that strange?"
"Well, usually drugs—I'm sorry—potions—like this would drive up the user's heart rate." She let go of the house-elf's arm, frowning as she watched the happy creature belch and giggle. "Her pupils aren't dilated either. I would like to know if her blood pressure is within a reasonable range, but if it is, this potion seems to have no adverse effects."
The house-elf burped again.
"Besides that," Draco corrected. He raised his brows. "I suppose the next step is to check this—what did you call it?"
"Blood pressure," Hermione mumbled. "Is this really not something you test?"
He shrugged. "If something is wrong, we can usually tell."
"Well, I'll need to get some Muggle supplies then. If her blood pressure is okay, I'd think it would be safe to move onto testing ourselves." She leered at him. "But don't you dare think this means I approve of this."
After a brief visit to Fritz Drug, the only drugstore in all of Fiddlesby, the brunette witch was able to test the house-elf's blood pressure. Of course, she was not sure what a house-elf's blood pressure was supposed to be, which made the process all the more challenging.
"So, we know that her blood pressure is ninety over fifty after drinking the potion. That would actually be low by human standards." Hermione frowned. "How utterly bizarre."
"Is that bad?"
Hermione removed the cuff from the elf's skinny arm and shook her head. "I don't know."
Lippy belched and grinned. "Lippy is thirsty. May Lippy conjure some water?"
"Please do," Draco replied before Hermione could offer to do it instead. When she narrowed her eyes, he said, "What? We need to see how well her magic works right now."
The house-elf snapped her fingers and a glass of water appeared out of thin air. She drank it quickly and graciously, before wiping her upper lip and summoning more.
"Are you able to hydrate?" Hermione asked the elf, concernedly. "Does the thirstiness go away?"
Lippy thought for a moment. "Lippy isn't thirsty anymore." She set the half-full glass down on the coffee table.
"So what do we do now? Wait until the potion is out of her system?"
Hermione sighed and got to her feet. "I suppose so." She looked around the room and drew her brows together. "Where is Barth? It's nearly his dinnertime, isn't it?"
"Sleeping. I wouldn't mind if it stayed that way."
"There's really nothing to do other than wait it out, then," Hermione said, awkwardly. She bit her lip. "Erm—do you want to play some Exploding Snap or something? I always keep a deck in my bag."
Draco shrugged. "I mean, I'm not twelve but I suppose we have time to kill."
Weeks had gone by and still, the redhead was alone. Having already tried his usual approaches, he was stumped. He and his longtime girlfriend always made up and got back together, so what was so different about this time?
"Malfoy," he spat, crumpling up a piece of parchment. "I just don't understand what she sees in the git! He bullied her for how long? Called her a Mudblood. Wanted her dead. Left her to get tortured by that dreadful aunt of his."
"But he's better now, isn't he? He did help Harry," his rosy-cheeked roommate said, tossing a Remembrall in the air. He had purchased it quite recently, as he had forgotten where his last three Remembralls were. "And didn't he apologize to her and Harry ages back?"
"Sure, but that doesn't mean she should be shagging him. He's still a git."
"I dunno, mate. Hannah was telling me all the girls in school fancied him," his roommate replied, still tossing the small, glass orb. "Maybe she's going for looks?"
"Are you saying I'm worse-looking than that ferret?"
"I'm just telling you what Hannah said. It could be the gold too. His family's got quite a lot of it, don't they?"
"She never cared about gold before," he muttered. "I just don't know what to say! 'Hey Hermione, this is Ron. Noticed you didn't owl me back after I sent you four hundred bouquets of flowers. Was there a misdelivery?' She'd think I was absolutely mental."
"Still can't believe that didn't work. Hannah really loves when I send her flowers."
"Can you stop talking about your girlfriend for thirty seconds, Neville? This is Hermione. Nothing impresses her." Ron sighed and lay back onto his pillow. "Nothing except Malfoy, I guess."
"You two have been at it for ages. She'll come around," Neville assured him, catching his Remembrall with both hands. "I reckon she just needs to get this whole Malfoy thing out of her system. I mean, Hannah dated Justin Finch-Fletchley for a while but in the long run, she picked me!"
Ron glared at him.
"Sorry. Bit of a habit."
"Ten out of ten!"
"Because you didn't play fairly," Hermione spat, shuffling the cards. "I don't think Bavarian Rules are even a real thing."
"They most certainly are!" Draco exclaimed. He and his houseguest had gotten rather comfortable sitting on the floor. "It's not my fault your Muggle family never taught you how to play."
"Harry and Ron taught me—and they never mentioned anything about Bavarian Rules." She passed out the cards and looked at her hand. "Can we play with normal rules this time?"
"Normal rules aren't nearly as fun," Draco drawled, "but sure. Let's do it your boring way. I'll still win."
Hermione glared at him before playing her card. It exploded as soon as it hit the tattered rug, leaving an unsightly black mark where it had landed. "You have to be kidding me!"
"Shame. You seemed pretty confident in that one too."
He eyed her as he put his first choice down. "Only a few more hours of that awful hairstyle of yours."
"What do you—oh, right." She felt the top of her head before playing another card. "It didn't look this bad when I first applied it."
"Yes, well, your usual hair suits you much better."
"Was that a compliment?"
"No," he replied, trumping her play with a smirk. "Granger, it's almost like you're trying to lose."
She opened her mouth to rebut, but they were interrupted by a loud yawn.
"Lippy is tired now."
Draco and Hermione exchanged glances.
"The potion must have worn off," Hermione noted, tossing her cards onto the floor. Several exploded, but she ignored them and scrambled to her feet. As she seized the blood pressure cuff from the coffee table, she added, "Let me see your arm, Lippy. Just a little pressure. Same as last time."
Hermione wrapped the cuff around the house-elf's arm tiny arm and put the two earpieces in her ears. Confusion was evident in Draco's expression as he watched her listen to the Muggle device; it was, after all, still quite new to him.
"Is she fine?"
Hermione pressed her forefinger to her lips as she listened closely. Within just a moment, she was grinning at her blond partner. "Eighty-eight over fifty."
Draco frowned. "That's different, though."
"Slightly," Hermione agreed, "but not enough to be considered a dangerous side effect. Draco, do you know what this might mean?"
"That it's perfectly safe for house-elves, just like I figured," he declared, triumphantly.
"Well, yes, but if it affects humans the same way, we could help thousands of witches and wizards. The way coffee wakes you up in the morning—this potion seems to have the same effect, except in a much more potent way," Hermione explained. She turned to Lippy. "Lippy, have you ever had coffee?"
Lippy peeked nervously at Draco. "Lippy is not supposed to sneak beverages from the Malfoys."
"I won't tell my parents," Draco said, annoyance in his tone. "Just answer the bloody question."
The elf fidgeted for a moment, clearly still uncomfortable by his presence. He was, after all, a Malfoy, and Malfoys did not treat elves with kindness. "Well, yes. It helps Lippy wake up in the morning for chores."
"And this potion—did it feel the same? Different?"
"Oh, Lippy did not feel so good even after an entire pot of coffee. Potion is much better. Much better, indeed."
"Merlin, we just might have done it!" Hermione exclaimed, throwing her arms around Draco's neck. "We—" She paused, her eyes finding the same lips that she had kissed not all that long ago. Her heart pounded in her chest as she realized his silver irises were raking over her too, almost like he ached to feel her in the same way that she ached to feel him.
Then, for the second time, their lips collided.
It was just like the last time: sloppy, passionate, searching. Lippy squeaked in disapproval, only to dart out of the way when they collapsed onto the sofa, clearly caring very little about the elf's presence. His mouth found her neck and, unlike the last time, she did not come to her senses as soon as their lips were apart. Instead, she wrapped her legs around him, urging him to keep going.
Hermione had no idea how long it lasted, but by the end of it, she was dizzy and Lippy was gone.
"I suppose I ought to—erm—maybe I ought to get home. I am quite hungry—" She fixed her blouse and sat up, only for Draco to seize her arm.
"Oh no you don't. This is the second time this has happened and you aren't about to just run off like you did last time."
She sighed. "Well, what do you want me to say, Draco? I'm—I don't know. Maybe I'm confused."
He buried his face in her neck. "You aren't confused. You're making excuses, just like before."
"Don't you dare put that all on me, because if I might remind you, you kissed me back."
She felt him smirk into her neck before he traced her jaw with his mouth. "Indeed I did."
Hermione opened her mouth to reply, but she was quickly shut up by the feeling of his soft, supple lips against her throat. She let out a small moan.
"See. I don't think you're confused at all."
And he was right. She wasn't confused when she kissed him, she wasn't confused when he kissed her back, and she most certainly wasn't confused when he pulled her towards his bedroom. In fact, her thoughts had not been so clear in a very long time.
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